‘SA’s welfare system hollow’

In reality, anti-poverty groups say, it is riddled with holes, through which the most vulnerable fall.

According to the Basic Income Grant (BIG) lobby group, around half of South Africa’s 47 million people are poor.

But the government’s welfare scheme ‘ child grants, pensions, foster children support and disability payments ‘ reach only 11 million people.

“Many people still struggle to access the services because they lack necessary documents like birth certificates and identity cards.

“People in isolated communities and farms make up the bulk of deserving beneficiaries but they are rarely part of the schemes,” said Karen Allan of the Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS).

“Many have never bothered to apply because of ignorance. Those who know of the programmes may not know where to get help, yet others are just so poor they cannot afford transport to the nearest departmental office. Everything is prohibitively expensive to those who don’t have money,” said Allen.

Added to this is the sheer bureaucracy of the registration process. Outside the home affairs office in downtown Johannesburg, a large three-storey red-brick building, the queue begins to form at dawn each morning.

Emelda Mosenyane is one of the anxious applicants. She has been checking almost weekly on the progress of her request for birth certificates for her three sons since March. Without the documentation she cannot claim child support, therefore cannot pay the fees for her boys to attend a state school rather than the informal classes run by a church-based charity in their Katlehong township.

“I have just been told to re-apply at the district office because the applications for their birth certificates have disappeared from the records. At the moment my children will not get any form of social support and there is nothing the office can do. I thank the church for paying their tuition fees, but I still struggle to feed the family everyday,” she said.

Birth certificates normally take three months to process. But in Ernest Chauke’s case, the waiting has now clocked eight months. He believes the delay is deliberate ‘ to force him to pay a bribe.

“No one cares about whether your family is suffering or not,” he told IRIN. “All documents that are supposed to be issued free cost money, it’s no longer a service for the poor. If you get inside the offices you are told stories like: ‘Your documents are not yet ready’; ‘We are still checking’; ‘Come next time’; ‘Go back to your district office’.”

Child support grants pay R190 (US$27) per child per month, roughly R6 (85 cents) a day ‘ about the cost of a loaf-and-a-half of bread.

Around seven million children receive the means-tested payments, and that money often supports an entire family.

Pensioners are eligible for a monthly stipend of R820 (US$117). For widower Joel Mswede, making ends meet is a real struggle, even though he lives in a shelter and pays no rent.

“I supplement the pension by recovering discarded cans, bottles and plastic containers for sale at a recycling company. My children have no IDs and they lack money to start the smallest business enterprise. All I can raise is enough to save us from total starvation.”

An unemployment rate estimated at around 40 percent is at the heart of the poverty faced by the disadvantaged. Despite the government’s efforts to create temporary jobs through an expanded public works programme, and its attempts to broaden access to grant support, it acknowledges there is an “ultra poor” segment of society who are highly marginalised and virtually unemployable.

“The deprivation of parents translates to deprivation for children, and this cycle will go on,” said Allan. “Our social security programmes should shift from being stop-gap poverty alleviation measures to focus on total empowering the recipients so that they can pull themselves out of the poverty trap and be self-sufficient.”

What ACESS wants, said Allan, is a comprehensive social security package that would include free education, health and other services.

The NGO is also lobbying the government to raise the cut-off age for child support from 14 to 18 years old. It believes a total of 12 million children up to the age of 18 live in poverty. Selwyn Jehoma, deputy director of social security in the Department of Social Development told Irin the government was working to broaden access to existing welfare grants, and to speed up the processing of identity documents.

“We are also pushing for more mobile registration programmes from the Department of Home Affairs to help those who have no money to reach the nearest offices.

“A basic public information campaign is also being run through clinics and schools in isolated communities. This way we intend to reach more people and let them know all about social security schemes they can benefit from,” Jehoma said. ‘ Irin.

July 2006
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